Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sermon: August 28

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” is how the author C.S. Lewis looks at humility. A gentle reminder we are not the center of the universe and I think that understanding is key to the scripture we heard this morning. It is thinking about ourselves less with hope, humility and grace.

Which reminds me of a story the late Muhammad Ali, the one who said, “I am the greatest,” told his young daughter…

Once upon a time there was a slave named Omar. He had been brought before the king with one hundred other slaves. A king sensed something special about his slave Omar & made him his assistant. It was not long before Omar gained the trust and confidence of the king, who put him in charge of his treasury, where all of his precious gold and jewels were kept. Omar served the king well as his personal attendant. The king rewarded Omar for his faithful service with a beautiful robe and set of clothes. A courtier was very jealous of Omar and looked for a way to discredit him before the King. He noticed that every day Omar took a large sack into the royal treasury and left with the same sack. The courtier immediately reported to the king that Omar was stealing.

The next morning, the king hid outside the chamber to see for himself. As usual, Omar entered the room, opened the sack - and took out of the sack his old slave robe. In the large mirror in the treasury, Omar said to the reflection: "Omar, once you were a slave. Never forget who are you are and how blessed you are." The king was deeply moved by Omar's humility. The king looked at Omar with eyes full of tears and said "I knew there was something special about you. I may be a king; Omar, but you have a royal heart." (from Hana Ali, More than a Hero)

Omar remembers who he is, he is not puffed up because of his new position or his new clothes. He does not presume to have a higher place, but it is the king who sees his humility and exalts this humble man whose heart is set right.

At a meal on the Sabbath thrown by the Pharisees, when there would be a pecking order, Jesus watches people take the seats of honor & privilege. So he tells them a parable… “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, go and sit down at the lowest place. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Jesus in his wisdom, using an old proverb, reminds all to not take one of the best seats, for there might be someone who is the more honored guest & you would be disgraced. His parable, though, is not just about a dinner party and where to sit, but its about our whole lives and the willingness to humble ourselves knowing that God honors those who are humble.

For humility helps us see our place in God’s creation, as both created in God’s image and equal to others. And through that humility, Jesus wants us to think of our neighbors, especially those who are often forgotten in our society. Too often we see the needs of others through the filter of either our own privilege or our own need.

Jesus said, “when you give a luncheon or a dinner, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, and you will be blessed because they cannot repay you.” Quite a contrast to inviting the movers and shakers, the privileged, the ones who would repay us. But it is those who can’t repay us, who need our help, these are the ones Jesus said we should invite to our banquets, our dinners.

It is to see others through the eyes of humility, out of love and respect, not looking down upon them; humility is part of our calling as disciples of Jesus. Even when what we do might cost us more than we get back. That is the sacrifice & the humility that discipleship with Jesus calls us to live, to see the humanity in everyone.

“All of our humanity is dependent upon recognizing the humanity in others.” – Desmond Tutu

At a small school outside of Amman, Jordan, a Syrian refugee mother begged the principal to accept her daughter into the school. The principal explained that there was no space. The Syrian refugee crisis had added tens of thousands of refugee children to all of Jordan's already-crowded schools, and this small school was no exception.

But this mother, who had already been turned away by several schools, would not give up. So the principal, Maha Salim Al-Ashqar, made a deal with her: "I will register your daughter, if you bring a chair for her. I will not make my students sit on the floor so we need a chair…"

That was three years ago - and that's been the policy at the Khwala Bint Tha'alba Elementary School for Girls ever since. Bring a chair - and you're in. Many families who have fled violence and war in their home country have brought all kinds of small plastic chairs for their children so they would have a place to learn. Already filled to capacity with almost 300 Jordanian students, the school has accepted an additional 65 chair-carrying Syrian students.

But simply accepting the students is only the beginning. Many of the children have suffered untold trauma and are in need of special counseling and care as a result of the violence they have seen in their homelands and on their dangerous journeys to freedom. Principal Al-Ashqar and her teachers make sure that their students not only get an education but find a place of safety and a sense of belonging in their new home. The school offers refugee students, who otherwise might get no schooling or attend low-quality schools, the chance at an equal footing with their Jordanian peers. Parents who would have been happy if their children could learn just to write their names now dare to have bigger dreams for them.

"I really love my school, and I also love my students," the principal says. "And I think love is giving as much as you can, by helping and supporting them to take away their hurt." And love at the Khwala Bint Tha'Alba School begins by pulling up a chair. [from NBC News;]

Jesus envisions his Church to be a place where there is always room for another chair. What has happened at the Khwala Bint Tha'Alba School is what Jesus asks not only of our schools & towns & nations but of our churches and institutions and even our homes: to embrace a spirit of welcome and respect that mirrors the limitless, unconditional love of God. Jesus assures us that to make room for another chair at our table is to make room for our own chair at God's table in eternity. (Jay Cormier)

May we have such a royal heart, a humble heart that welcomes the refugee at a time of great fear, a grateful heart that gives so others may simply live and dream of better days, a giving heart that is ready to do good and to share what we have. May the heart of Jesus live in us so we can by the grace of the Holy Spirit offer the world the love we have been given & make it a better place for all of humanity & creation. Amen.

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